Thursday, April 29, 2010

Palm: "I'm not dead... yet"

With HP's announced acquisition of Palm yesterday - the geek press is full "whoa" mode. They're busy speculating on what devices HP will put Palm's "webOS" (yeah, I know - crappy name) and whether or not they'll have an app store like Apple, if HP is going to give Apple a run for its iPhone/iPad money, etc.

Ummmm.... yeah, well... I think the bigger questions is whether or not HP can court developers to make apps for yet ANOTHER mobile operating system with it's own languages, own web store, own ecosystem, etc.

When Palm first announced its webOS in January 2009 - it was supposed to be the best thing since sliced bread. It's a proprietary GUI on top of a Linux kernel - that uses a "card" metaphor to switch between applications. However, the interesting thing is that developers can use HTML 5, CSS and JavaScript to create applications. There are LOTS of developers in the world that know HTML 5, CSS and JavaScript.

On the flip side, you have to be a "real" object oriented programmer to grasp Objective C for iPhone/iPad applications or Java on Android (or Blackberry) phones or C# (or C++) for Windows Mobile applications. Now, don't get me wrong - there are TONS of professional programmers/engineers that know these languages like the back of their hands.

In the past, I've tried to learn C++ but, unfortunately, my mind imploded before I could get a good enough handle on it to use it creatively to solve problems. Objective C is a little better in 2.0 with the built-in garbage collection (but not on the iPhone/iPad version!) - but there are thousands of really, really long-named functions that take a very long time to become proficient in. Straight Java is no picnic, but it's still a bit easier than C.

So where does this leave the content-expert "hobby" developer? Or the GUI-focused web developer? Sure, they can build web applications - all modern mobile platforms have browsers and Internet connections - but except for Palm's webOS - they're basically out of luck in terms of leveraging their existing skills to building native mobile applications.

There are a couple of companies that have built excellent platforms that will allow developers to use HTML/CSS/JavaScript and then either generate native C (or Java or Objective C) code and create "real" native applications, or they have native applications that allow programs to run inside of them (a native application "layer").

Two examples that come to mind are Appcelerator and Runtime Revolution. Well, since Apple has changed its Terms of Service for the Apple Developers Program in a bid to stop Adobe from allowing Flash developers to cross-compile their code to work on the iPhone/iPad - these two companies are in real danger of losing their mobile strategy in terms of the Apple platform.

At the end of the day, developers have to make up their minds on where to spend their time and money developing applications. Right now the 800 pound gorilla is Apple. Will HP's marketing muscle be enough to goose Palm's webOS into higher adoption rates? Android seems to also be picking up more devices and more steam, and Symbian has yet to unleash their open source mobile operating system... sheesh!

It's going to be interesting to see what happens in the marketplace - whether Apple can hold on to the #1 spot, or whether it will get cocky and implode or continue to dominate the consumer landscape. Because, at the end of the day, developers are just like all other business people - they tend to follow the money.

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